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Secure at Sea: Navigate high-risk areas safely with accurate intel in real time

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Secure@Sea: by Corey D. Ranslem

The world is amazingly dynamic, and an ever-changing maritime security situation can sometimes cause major interruptions to the best organized plans. I have worked in various parts of the maritime industry for the past 25 years and know things can change in an instant. When you browse the news headlines or read security updates from your favorite maritime news sources, it seems as though there is some major issue happening somewhere in the world all the time. 

Through my career in the Coast Guard, in private industry, and now working for my own maritime risk management company, I’ve seen an increase in major maritime security type events worldwide. Piracy, attempted hijackings, armed boardings, robberies, migrant issues, theft, civil unrest and disease outbreaks are commonplace and happen somewhere in the world daily. 

Flag states, insurance organizations, and governmental bodies have designated certain maritime HRAs (high-risk areas) in various parts of the world. Most mariners know the location of these broad, general areas. However, most of the designated HRAs are not typically high risk all the time. Understanding the maritime environment and having information sources that provide you with real-time intelligence on what is happening right now  will help you substantially reduce your risk even in an HRA.  

Over the past four years, my company has been building a real-time risk management software platform for vessels. Our team has studied and continues to collect information from thousands of sources around the world. Through human and machine learning analytics, we are now pulling very interesting data and information into our software platform. 

One of our initial conclusions is that HRAs are truly in a high-risk status for a very small time period. Even some of the extreme HRAs can be safe to transit if you have accurate, real-time information and a good contingency plan. 

Back in my September column I discussed transiting high-risk areas in the world and the use of armed security teams (check out the column for some things to consider when bringing on armed security). If you are planning to transit a high-risk area, it is always a good idea to consider the use of armed security personnel to ensure a safe transit regardless of the potential within that area. There are some very knowledgeable companies that understand and work well within the maritime industry when it comes to providing armed personnel to a large yacht. However, understanding the dynamics of what is currently happening or the potential for future activity within a given region is imperative. 

Most mariners know and understand the dynamics of HRAs around the world, as well as the general precautions or transit requirements for those areas: checking in with government/military authorities, filing float plans, notices of arrival, etc. Generally, HRAs are designated for a long time and the overall size of the area doesn’t typically change much, however the activity within those areas does fluctuate depending on several conditions. 

For example, the HRA off the coast of Somalia is not always active or a complete danger zone. There are still several naval vessels providing escorts and protection within that area, and transit groups are still organized. It has been a long time since a vessel has been successfully hijacked within this HRA. Another example would be migrant departures off the Libyan coast. Hundreds of migrants have been rescued in this region. However, the actual danger zone within this region is small, and with the right information, it is easy to predict when migrant departures are most likely to take place and where. 

The world is an incredible place to explore, especially some amazing maritime treasures that are off the beaten path, such as the scuba diving off the coast of the Philippines around the Sula and Celebus seas. So if you plan to transit through or visit an area within an HRA, make sure you have accurate, real-time information on what is happening within that area where you can go. And always make sure you have a contingency plan ready if there are any issues. 

Corey D. Ranslem, CEO at International Maritime Security Associates (www.imsa.global), has more than 24 years of combined Coast Guard and maritime industry experience. Comments are welcome below.

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